I can’t believe you haven’t seen…

I’m sure I’ve said this in the past to friends and associates (and I hope I said it with genuine curiosity rather than with some manner of scorn) but I thought I’d hurl the question out there and see if you have one for me!

Have you ever read one of my reviews and perhaps wondered Hold on, why does it seem that Ashley hasn’t seen [name]? After all, he seems to love [genre/other show]?

Well, please ask!

If I’ve at least heard of the ova/show/film, then I should be able to give something of an answer – and if I haven’t, well then, it looks like my recommendation list will grow, which I’d just hate to see happen 😀

Demon City Shinjuku (Makai Toshi: Shinjuku)

Demon City Shinjuku (Makai Toshi: Shinjuku) 1988

I swing back and forth on how much I enjoy the works of Yoshiaki Kawajiri (and Hideyuki Kikuchi) due to their tendency to drift into territory I’ll describe as crass at best.

Other times, the team-up creates things which are sinister and stylish from start to finish – with plenty of action to go along with the horror elements. Demon City Shinjuku mostly fits under this description for me.

And if you like the supernatural genre or films with great action sequences or with low-level lighting, stylised reds, pinks and blues for the palette of a city in endless night, and a city filled with mysterious characters and seemingly insurmountable odds for the hero(es) to tackle, then you’re in luck with Demon City Shinjuku.

To contrast, I’m certainly aware that some of the criticisms aimed at this film (and which can also be applied to many films and genres, especially fighting shonen) are certainly valid. Character development is not missing precisely, but the storyline is mostly built around getting the hero from one battle to another. And those battles tend to be exciting or surprising and are clearly so well directed, and thus the trade-off is definitely worthwhile for me.

On the other hand, Sayaka Rama doesn’t have much of a role beyond damsel (but she’s pretty brave, forging ahead in her high-vis pink dress) and so that issue with the characterisation being a little thin plays out elsewhere too. Again, I think there is a trade-off – which is the mystery behind a lot of figures (and the setting itself) especially for someone like Mephisto.

I also found it interesting to see the shinai from Kendo being the hero’s weapon of choice, which is something I think modern martial arts anime has maybe moved away from a little. As tends to be the case with me, I really enjoy Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s character designs – and even though his role is mostly confined to the prologue, the character of Genichirou strikes me as a cool mix between Clint Eastwood and Jet Black, or maybe he just has a 1970s vibe in general.

In terms of audience, I’ll mention that Demon City Shinjuku has far less sexualised violence compared to say, Wicked City or even Ninja Scroll, and the violence is somewhat more restrained too. I wonder if at this point in his career (right after Wicked City) there was an urge to make something (potentially) more commercial and suitable for distribution in the US, as Bloodlust perhaps was.

4 Stars

The Review Heap: 2020 Directions (Checking In)

I’d planned something to mark the 1st year of The Review Heap but June hasn’t felt like time for much in the way of a celebration, so I’ve deferred my original idea for now.

I still want to mark the moment, I guess, so I’ll do a bit of a ‘check-in’ perhaps, and update any progress on what I’d planned for 2020 in this post, so let’s see how many goals I maybe made progress on!

Here’s a summation of the goals I had in mind back in Jan:

  1. Keep reviewing at my own pace
  2. More Anime
  3. Review albums
  4. More discussion posts
  5. Review more games
  6. Do more collaborations
  7. Release a book

  1. The plan for The Review Heap was just to review (nearly anything) at my own pace.

This is still going as intended 😀


2. More Anime

Yes and no.

Below are some of the ones I’d planned to review, and while my reviewing pace has been fair, I didn’t get to many of these… yet!

  • Buccano!
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service
  • Black Lagoon
  • Samurai Flamenco
  • Count of Monte Cristo
  • Perfect Blue
  • Shigofumi
  • The Twelve Kingdoms
  • Gunbuster

Here’s a quote from below which is essentially still true, though I feel a little more relaxed about reviewing them in the future at least:

There are also more than a few big-impact anime that I just haven’t got around to reviewing yet, such as Astro Boy, Neon Genesis, Cowboy Bebop, FMA, GITS etc and I’m super-keen to write them but I’m mostly paralysed by the question what could I hope to add to the discourse? They’re so massive and so storied that it’s hard to bring much new to the conversation.


3. Review Albums

No and no.

I wanted to review a few albums (having the common theme of being albums that were released right after a band broke-up) but zero progress on that so far. Will try to do at least one or two in the next 6 months.


4. More Discussion Posts

No and no.

So, this didn’t happen either! I had no ideas for any such posts, and so I didn’t write any 😀

I might give it a shot… actually, I do have just one idea based around a quote from Mamoru Oshii (below), and maybe such a post around anime and age will eventually appear on the heap, I’m not sure.

“I’m not watching anything. There are zero titles I’m interested in. I mean, I’m over 65. Trying to get into anime aimed at young people is impossible. That’s true for Japanese films in general, not just anime. Everything is made for a young audience.”


5. Review More Games

None.

This one is indeed pending. I’ve played plenty, both since I was a kid and lately, but haven’t had the time or drive to write up any thoughts. I am playing the ‘new’ Xenoblade, which does of course appeal to anime fans.


6. More Collaborations

Yes!

Okay, so I have one new collaboration (see here) and another two in the works, so I’m happy to report that this goal for 2020 is on track 🙂

I love and recommend doing collaborations, so I’m very pleased that things are going well there.


7. Release a book

Nope 🙂

Here there has been a little progress I guess – I’m still writing reviews, after all, but I’m still not sure how to structure it. Nor am I sure it wouldn’t just be a project for me hahahaha


So, some progress, which I’m happy with, and some things I’ll try to put more focus into but for now that’s a wrap! One year on the Heap 🙂

Again, thanks for reading!

Ashley  

The Weathering Continent (Kaze no Tairiku)

The Weathering Continent (Kaze no Tairiku) (1992)

Lots of pastel-ish tones in this film, which really adds to the bleakness.

I missed The Weathering Continent back in the 1990s but I know it would have caught my eye if the film had actually had any chance of being screened in Australia – but then, at the time of the movie’s release I was probably watching Astro Boy re-runs (along with He-Man, She-Ra and Voltron).

And then, a few years later, by the mid-90s, it was all about Neon Genesis!

Still, I’m glad I’ve now seen The Weathering Continent because I know I’ll watch it again one day, since I enjoyed it so much.

It really walks the line between creepy and haunting so well, aided by a barren but not empty setting. The story follows three wanderers as they traverse a wasteland-like Atlantis, but it’s not a quest to discover ancient wonders – it’s more like a struggle to survive an ancient, cursed place.

I’m not sure I should try to categorise The Weathering Continent as ‘cult’ or ‘overlooked’ and I’m not coming up with a lot of info re: how it was received upon release, but I know it did have a theatrical run, though it’s not ‘feature length’ at 50-odd minutes. This anime is not something I suspect you’ll be able to stream easily, but I found a DVD via good old ebay, and it has a great, landscape sleeve:

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51AGu829N7L._SX425_.jpg

Anyway, it was of course easy for me to learn that the film is an adaptation of a light novel series by Sei Takekawa (illustrations by Mutsumi Inomata) and that it was directed by Kōichi Mashimo. Mashimo’s name caught my eye because of Eat-Man and Noir, so it was interesting to see that same moodiness from the first Eat-Man here. However, unlike Noir the action is sparse in The Weathering Continent.

But when it occurs it certainly looks good – this is from Production IG before they changed their name, and character design stands out to me as well, obviously very 1990s. But above all, it is the city where the bulk of the story takes place that enthralled me, and yes the architecture and use of mostly sombre colours and detail is great, but the inhabitants themselves were what had me hooked, those masks and costumes!

Again, I wanted to share a lot more shots of the masks and the city but I restrained myself

I’ve had to fight the urge not to screen-cap the hell out of this one, because on the off-chance that you might want to see this film, I don’t want to spoil too much, yet I want to evoke enough to get you curious at least 😀

That’s probably enough rhapsodising from me, I think – basically, if you’re in the mood for a sword and sorcery anime that is also heavy on atmosphere (but a fairly light on plot), then this lesser-known film from Mashimo should satisfy.

4 Stars

Promare

Promare (2019)

Whenever folks complain about CGI in anime (as I sometimes certainly do) it’s not about this level of application and integration, I hope.

Promare looks amazing, and some scenes are burnt into my memory I reckon – two of which I’ll mention below. There is definitely a lot to like if you’re a fan of Gainax, Trigger or mecha in general, or I’d add, even the neon aesthetic of the 1980s.

For a change, I’m going to include a short summary of the premise (from Wikipedia) though I imagine there aren’t tonnes of folks who aren’t at least vaguely familiar with the film:

The planet Earth suffered a calamity known as the Great World Blaze, where the fires from mass spontaneous human combustions killed half the world’s population. Certain ones developed pyrokinetic abilities during and subsequent to the event, and became known as the Burnish.

Thirty years later, Galo Thymos lives and works as a member of the firefighting group Burning Rescue, in the city of Promepolis. He responds to incidents involving the purported Mad Burnish, a group of liberating terrorists [led by Lio Fotia].

One thing that struck me, especially in these times, is that it was nice to see fire-fighters as heroes as opposed to say, police, which to be honest I couldn’t stomach at the moment. But getting back to Promare, I really enjoyed the dynamic between the leads (two hot-heads in a way) – since it was a little different from the classic kid must pilot mecha to save the world.

And while comparisons between Promare and Gurren Lagann (especially re: Galo and Kamina) can be made, I think it was fun to have two heroes who start off as adversaries work together to take on the glittering facade of a true villain. That’s a trope that I’m enjoying a lot lately, so I guess it spoke to me when I cheered Galo and Lio on.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the way the film balanced itself to appeal to a range of audiences, and in a way it really felt like Trigger nailed that ‘commercially-successful but-still-artistic’ project really well. (I may have said this before, but I’m not a huge fan of those two things being set up as opposite ends of a quality spectrum actually).

So, if you’re on the fence about watching or purchasing this I think that Promare has that real blockbuster feel, with a fun blend of action, character and comedy, and for me it definitely had enough reveals to be interesting, pay-offs to be satisfying and both likeable and understandable characters to keep me hooked.

What I will mention is the visual aspect – the colour palette is extremely 1980s (or even Vaporwave if you’re younger, I guess) and that might wear some folks down – in some action sequences there maybe wasn’t enough definition between moving parts to really track what was happening, so I think it’d be worth watching more than once in that respect.

Elsewhere, the hard lines and solid colours also kept things distinctive – in a way, it kinda brought Ben 10 to mind, but that’s not a good comparison tone-wise. Promare is definitely anime.

For the two moments I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, I wanted to find images for both but I’m not sure the internet will provide what I need… but there are a few shots from (beneath) an ice lake that are perfectly serene, and there’s also a fantastic range of styles compressed into Lio’s volcano scene that I think fans of animation should see at least once.

You could watch it here of course, but in the context of the whole film it’s obviously better

Okay, that’s about it! Basically, I really enjoyed Promare and I think I’ll grab a copy one day, but I was lucky that just last week Animelab randomly decided to put the movie up for streaming across a three day period!

5 Stars

More screen-time for Ignis needed!

A Liquid Top Ten (2020, Film Edition)

Much like my previous, similar post to this one, I want this list to change whenever I come back to it 🙂

Also like my last post, there’s no special reason to do this really – but it serves two purposes for me; Self-Reflection and Fun. I do think that as bloggers and audiences we tend to crave the act of listing, of categorising and ranking, so I’m giving in to that need once again today!

And yes! The copying from my other post continues below, but with minor tweaks:

  • I’m focusing on films today
  • This list should change as I see more texts over the years and it will definitely reveal gaps in my knowledge
  • Equally, it should also change whenever I re-watch and re-evaluate
  • By definition of the list being ‘mine’ it clearly reveals my biases and interests
  • Expect to still see the 1990/2000s heavily represented, lol
  • Subsequent posts will maybe be shorter than this one

Onward to the list!

Let’s climb from the bottom up:

10. Redline (2009)

For my number ten I’ve gone with a film where almost the whole reason it’s here is due to the visuals. The storyline or character aspects are not bad – at all – but I think this is one film that you can appreciate on the art and animation alone. Boy, it is fantastic and still stands out style-wise, in the anime industry, with its heavy use of Dick Tracy kinda shadow.

9. Sword of the Stranger (2007)

This is a film that I hadn’t seen until quite recently and it shot into this list in part because I do really enjoy historical and also samurai anime, and upon reflection I think this one holds up better in some aspects compared to a classic I nearly included – Ninja Scroll. Sword of the Stranger has some superb fight sequences and great scene-setting too. Very much worth it if you’ve never seen this and you like the genre.

8. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

Perhaps the first Vampire Hunter D is maybe more ‘important’ to anime in general (or at least certain genres) and in some ways I prefer the 1985 film to Bloodlust but maybe this one sneaks into the top ten due to the higher production budget. The story’s great too; it’s creepy without being crass and the visuals really are memorable. This is one that I’ve already reviewed (like at least half this list I think).

7. Paprika (2006)

As you’ll soon see, I’ve got a couple of repeat directors in this list, which shows that I’ve struggled to choose between two or more of their works… or that I need to see more films. But I couldn’t leave Paprika off this list – it’s influential and mesmerizing. Aside from the thriller storyline and great animation, there’s a lot of fun references throughout that rewarded me on nearly each re-watch.

6. Howl’s Moving Castle (2005)

I could have put a few of the big Ghibli films here – obviously Spirited Away is a landmark and I also love Whisper of the Heart, but I think Howl’s is a fantastic adaptation of an already fantastic book. It’s got all the classic Ghibli features to be expected from a Miyazaki film too and my favourite Joe Hisaishi score.   

5. Summer Wars (2010)

I’ve mentioned before how much I like the pairing of Hosoda and Okudera and I feel like this is their best work together. It’s fantastic that such a large cast works, with time enough to get a feel for even most of the minor characters here. To me, this has that adventure feel – even though the setting is (at least in one sense) limited to one homestead.

4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

This is my favourite Ghibli film and it’s technically not a Ghibli film, I guess! I believe it’s easy to make a convincing argument that Princess Mononoke is a better execution of the same themes that appear in Nausicaa but I have a soft spot for this one. Since I’ve reviewed it here, I won’t ramble on too much more 🙂

3. Perfect Blue (1997)

I found myself having trouble placing some films above or below others, due to the implications of ‘quality’ that any hierarchy creates, but again, this is a personal fav list and as much as I love Nausicaa, I think Perfect Blue is too hard to place lower for me. This film is a harrowing psychological thriller executed so, so well. I seem to remember over the years, occasional calls along the lines of ‘why wasn’t this a live-action film’ and sure, it’d work… but I don’t like the implication behind the question: that animation was the lesser form for this story.

2. Akira (1988)

I know Akira tops a lot of lists and it should be abundantly clear why. It’s probably here at number two in my list because cyberpunk is one of my fav genres. Akira is a monster of a film, from its huge budget (esp for the time) and the staggering number of cells 160,000+ to the length and scope of the story. For me and many folks the world-building is another key draw; the setting is so immersive.

1. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

So, no surprises for the top of the list! Ghost in the Shell feels like it’ll be a film that remains enshrined for many more decades still, possibly in part because it’s a great mix of ‘high concept’ and grittier genre elements? I love that the structure is basically 3 or 4 action sequences with the rest being divided between dialogue and atmosphere. I probably watch this once a year and it’s always enthralling to me.


The Current List

Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Akira (1988)
Perfect Blue (1997)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Summer Wars (2010)
Howl’s Moving Castle (2005)
Paprika (2006)
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
Sword of the Stranger (2007)
Redline (2009)


Down a little further are a few films that could have made it into my list but got close enough.

Next quarter, maybe I’ll have seen a few more films and also, been able to decide whether I should have a Shinkai film in there!

Venus Wars (1989)
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Girl who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Endless Waltz (1997)
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Ninja Scroll (1993)
A Tree of Palme (2002)


Again, like last time, let me know if you think I’ve missed something stellar (spoiler: I have) and maybe I’ll be able to include it in my upcoming watching if it’s within my reach, both figuratively and literally.

Thanks for reading!

Windaria (Douwa Meita Senshi Uindaria)

Windaria (Douwa Meita Senshi Uindaria) 1986

Time for another classic!

I want to start off by saying that there is a FAR better film hidden beneath the one that I saw, but my version was clouded-over by a misguided English-language script.

Sadly for me, this edition was surely not the version that Kunihiko Yuyama and Keisuke Fujikawa had in mind. As some of you will already know, Windaria has been released in several versions over the years, with most folks steering clear of the ‘Harmony Gold’ cuts.

And Windaria did go through a few cuts; chiefly to some violence and nudity, when released for the US market, along with a new script for the dub*. Now, the new script itself obviously made sense (for the most part) but it did do some ruinous things to characterisation and world-building, in its effort to make the film more ‘kid-friendly’.

I actually have an Italian release of the DVD, which happens to include the English dub – but remains visually uncut, so I’ve seen the full film in some ways, but didn’t get the real story. Later, I checked out a fansub and wow, there’s some serious differences between the two versions, especially when it comes to conveying character motivation.

Because in the dub there are some extreme left-turns for characters that have almost zero foreshadowing and a real dearth of detail in other scenes. Overall, I think it’s clear that the original is a tragic cautionary tale, told on a fairly epic scale, but the new script really makes the cast – especially Izu – seem unbelievable in key moments.

Still, there’s a lot to enjoy despite those problems. I feel like I’m being a little hard on Windaria, because it’s still worth seeing for the visuals alone. It’s a beautiful and detailed film, with sweeping vistas and great character design too. In a way, it has a very vague Castle in the Sky feel but it’s not an adventure film with that sort of violence and a happy ending.

Instead, as I mentioned above, Windara is a cautionary tale.

It focuses mostly on the ‘star-crossed lovers’ trope, and pitches them in the middle of war, politics and tragedy (of course). There are even a few protagonists almost masquerading as heroes too. Again, it’s still a bright fantasy film from a real golden age of anime, so it’s clear, and nearly everything feels high-quality in terms of production. (In particular, I loved the way they portrayed water in the film – especially in the scenes around the city of Itha.)

And there are a few moments where the true nature of the tragic circumstances shone through the dub, and without spoilers I’ll say one moment above the others was focused around poor Marin, great writing and visuals there.

Okay, so finally now – would I suggest that everyone should try to track down Windaria?

Maybe if you can get the uncut, original version. Even if maybe you don’t watch a lot of fantasy-themed anime or generally watch work from the ‘80s, the production values are high and there is a more complex, rewarding story there, it just wasn’t the case for the script that I saw.

3 Stars

* The Harmony Gold director did mention that, as was perhaps not unusual for the era, that they weren’t given a translation or notes to work from, so I suspect they did their best. And it’d be a tough job! What I guess I didn’t agree with, was pushing the story toward PG territory.

Not the Top Reviews from the Second 6 Months

Following on from the previous post in this style, here’s a list of reviews that weren’t the top posts re: reader interest, but which I’m highlighting because I like something about each one!

Onward:

November – Sword of the Stranger

December – Mushi-Shi

January – Un-Go

February – A Tree of Palme

March – 8 Man After

April – Miss Hokusai

Complete! There they are, a handful of reviews or posts that I liked, or some which maybe did something slightly different from what I normally do 😀

Thanks for reading!

Ashley

Popular Reviews from the Second 6 Months

So, this is the second set of these posts for Heap, where I highlight reviews (or posts) that ended up being the most popular across a certain span of time, and today I’m aiming for the one that covers the second 6 months of The Review Heap in action.

I’m actually a little early,and I’ve actually doubled up on November BUT, Nov – April is 6 months at least, and I want a bit of space between this post and a future, similar one due in June 😀

Below, you can see a list of the ones that got the most traffic – though I may or may not have done the best job in expressing myself in them.

Onward:

November – What is a Classic?

December – Aladdin

January – Nadia vs Atlantis

February – Tokyo Godfather Collab 🙂

March – Abandoned

April – Vote on What I Should Watch Next

Just like last time, I’ll have a follow-up post to this in a few minutes, one that highlights a different set of reviews but from the same span of time.

Thanks for reading!

Ashley

Vote on What I Should Watch Next – Results

Okay, I ended up leaving this open a bit longer than I’d meant to, but I’ve got some results now:

So, we have Black Lagoon as clear winner, with Gunbuster not miles behind but not close enough. Classics Akira and ‘much-harder-to-find’ Neo Tokyo got a bit of love, though I voted for Neo Tokyo myself 😀

Time Travel Girl is a show I stumbled across that features famous inventors, and I believe it’s a co-production with an educational group, so I’m still curious about that. And Blast of Tempest is Bones series that I’d never heard of, so I think I’ll keep it on my list somewhere for ‘someday’.


So, the schedule is basically as follows:

  1. Finish watching Gurren Lagann
  2. Finish watching Le Chevalier D’Eon
  3. Begin Black Lagoon 🙂
  4. Bonus Watch – Gunbuster

So, this’ll take me a little while and I’ve got a few scheduled posts that I’ve been building up for a while that’ll arrive first, but for now, thanks for voting!